Skip to main content

Down to clown? The biopic spoof Weird is a glorified Funny or Die sketch

The crowd last night at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, which the internet tells me is the oldest regularly operating live theatrical venue on the continent, howled through just about every minute of the midnight premiere of Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Now, I’m not here to yuck anyone’s yum. One man’s “well, that was just plain stupid” can always be another’s Dare to Be Stupid. But I might gently suggest that there wasn’t a lot Weird could have done to leave this audience stone-faced. Here we were, after all, at the first screening of TIFF’s famously rowdy Midnight Madness program in about three years. People came with chuckles in the chamber. They laughed at the “strobe effects” warning before the movie. They were thoroughly down to clown. And that could only benefit this officially unofficial, goofily fabricated version of the famous song parodist’s life story — a comedy that never stopped feeling like a three-minute sketch uncomfortably and unnecessarily expanded to nearly two full hours.

In fact, Weird is exactly that. Its inspiration is a dozen-years-old fake trailer from Funny or Die, whose single joke was, “What if you plugged the clean-mouthed, clean-living polka maestro with the library of food-based Top 40 spoofs into a gritty, debaucherous, rock-and-roll biopic?” The real Yankovic has, in fact, lived a plenty eventful life, marked by sudden tragedy, a few legal dustups, and nearly half a century of work in the overlapping music and comedy worlds. Pretty much none of that makes it into Weird, which Yankovic and director Eric Appel — who together conceived of the original viral video — instead use as an opportunity to riff on some of the moldy conventions of the music biopic. There is, more or less, just one joke in this expanded take on the conceit, too, and that’s creating a fictional reality where Yankovic (played with a certain winning earnestness by Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe) became the biggest star in the world.

Daniel Radcliffe and Rainn Wilson stare at the camera.
The Roku Channel

And so here’s a young Al being struck with inspiration while staring at a package of bologna, commenting aloud that no one actually gets famous overnight (right before turning on the radio to discover that he’s instantly famous), and meeting a parade of fellow countercultural, comedy-nerd favorites like Dr. Demento, Wolfman Jack, and Pee-wee Herman, all played by … fellow comedians winking at their own impeccable good taste in influences. Walk Hard got to a lot of this stuff 15 years ago, and with much more precision. (Why exactly is Weird narrated by the baritone trailer-voice guy? Isn’t this supposed to be a lampoon of music biopics, not the advertisements for music biopics?) Comparisons would be easier to avoid if Appel and Yankovic didn’t tread some of the same ground, blowing huge stretches of the runtime on a subplot about Al’s disapproving dad.

Weird could have used more of Yankovic’s unique wit, and less of the random sub-ZAZ material that pads out its slim story.

Plenty of the real Yankovic’s wholesome dork-vaudeville spirit seeps into the material through gags like a very Al version of the stereotypical wild teenage party (I did laugh, I’ll confess, at cool kids earnestly debating the merits of polka deep cuts) and a general willingness to be self-deprecating about the unique space he’s carved in the pop-culture consciousness. No one could really confuse Weird for self-flattery; that would require a lot more jokes hinging on actual particulars of his work or cultural footprint. The movie doesn’t build much on the original Funny or Die strategy of merely throwing glasses, a frizzy fro, and a brightly patterned shirt on the boilerplate of melodramatic Hollywood cautionary tales about the music biz. It could have used more of Yankovic’s unique wit, and less of the random sub-ZAZ material that pads out its slim story, including a whole superfluous goof on action-movie excess, relevant perhaps only for clowning on the type of testosterone fests that were huge in the heyday of Like a Virgin and Like a Surgeon. (Evan Rachel Wood capably takes over for Olivia Wilde as the queen of pop. For perhaps obvious reasons, Michael Jackson is only mentioned, not portrayed.)

WEIRD: The Al Yankovic Story - official trailer

The general laziness of the parody is a shame, and maybe a surprise. For all Weird leans on just a handful of his most popular spoofs (this is not an especially exhaustive love letter to the man’s legacy or his diehard fans), Yankovic has proven himself to be a sly, skillful parodist in his main medium, far beyond his novelty re-skins of pop hits; you can hear his music smarts in his general genre pastiches and all-purpose artist parodies. Hear, for example, Germs, a priceless — and compositionally sophisticated — Nine Inch Nails tribute that friend, fellow critic, and Weird Al superfan Nick Allen turned me on to. Nick, incidentally, recently ponied up for a backstage, artist-meet experience on Yankovic’s tour that ultimately took place with, for safety reasons, a thick plate of glass between him and Al. The signed picture commemorating the meeting was the two posed separately and then photoshopped together. Afraid to say that’s funnier — and weirder — than just about anything in Weird.

Our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival continues all weekFor more of A.A. Dowd’s writing, please visit his Authory page.

Editors' Recommendations

A.A. Dowd
A.A. Dowd, or Alex to his friends, is a writer and editor based in Chicago. He has held staff positions at The A.V. Club and…
Where to watch The Family Stone
The cast of The Family Stone.

There are plenty of heartwarming family Christmas movies that will just make you feel good to have loved ones. The Family Stone is not one of those movies, although it's definitely a Christmas flick! This 2005 dramady tends to veer more toward drama than comedy, but there are definitely a lot of funny moments at the expense of Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker). Meredith is the girlfriend of Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney), and she is dreading the idea of spending the holidays with the Stone family because she doesn't fit in with her potential in-laws. And the family really doesn't like Meredith at all.

Desperate for any kind of emotional backup, Meredith calls her sister, Julie Morton (Claire Danes), to join her for Christmas with the Stone family. But much to everyone's surprise, Everett and Julie soon start to show more chemistry as a couple than Meredith does with her own boyfriend. That's only one of the reasons why there's going to be an emotional reckoning before this Christmas is over.

Read more
Where to watch Christmas with the Kranks
The cast of Christmas With the Kranks.

Christmas can be overwhelming even for the best of us, so it's understandable why some people choose not to celebrate the season. In 2001, legal thriller writer John Grisham embraced that idea with his novel Skipping Christmas, which was subsequently adapted by screenwriter Chris Columbus and director Joe Roth as the perennial holiday film,Christmas with the Kranks, which hit theaters in 2004.

The Santa Clauses' Tim Allen and Halloween Ends star Jamie Lee Curtis portray the titular couple, Luther and Nora Krank, both of whom are surprised when they are transformed into the neighborhood pariahs just because they want to skip Christmas in favor of a Caribbean cruise. Since their daughter, Blair (Julie Gonzalo), joined the Peace Corps and moved away, the Kranks refuse to budge when it comes to not decorating their home for the holidays. But when Blair announces that she'll be home for Christmas, the Kranks have to make peace with their neighbors and quickly put together the Christmas party and decorations that used to be their holiday tradition.

Read more
Where to watch Four Christmases
Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn in Four Christmases.

Christmas romantic comedies are a tricky thing, especially in Four Christmases, where the main couple, Brad McVie (Vince Vaughn) and Kate Kinkaid (Reese Witherspoon), are already together when the film begins. The King of Kong documentary helmer Seth Gordon made his scripted directorial debut with Four Christmases, and both Witherspoon and Vaughn had previous rom-com experience under their belts when the film opened in theaters in 2008. It has since become a popular Christmas movie.

Four Christmases gets its title from the fact that Brad and Kate both come from homes that were split up by divorces. Brad's parents, Howard McVie (Robert Duvall) and Paula (Sissy Spacek), each have their own families now. The same is true for Kate's parents, Creighton (Jon Voight) and Marilyn Kinkaid (Mary Steenburgen). To avoid having to spend time at any of the respective four family gatherings, Brad and Kate have always made sure that they were out of town for the holidays.

Read more